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Mr. Big Shot

This was a first for the two veteran fugitive trackers. Never had Miami-based FBI agent Paul Russell and Fort Lauderdale detective Chuck Morrow busted a crook in exclusive Colee Hammock, one of Fort Lauderdale's priciest waterfront neighborhoods. But here they were, casing a new, $5 million estate, catercornered across the New River from H. Wayne Huizenga's lavish spread.

Their target had eluded the grasp of the government for almost nine years, and the agents knew their guy was equipped with, at the very least, yacht-loads of cash and church-bell-sized balls.

On October 1, 2004, after nearly a month of on-and-off surveillance, a team headed by Russell and Morrow was ready to move. They had spent the morning watching the house from a school parking lot across the street. Then they spotted a Federal Express truck squeaking to a stop on the street in front. The truck was buzzed through the gate to deliver a package, and the agents watched the driver hop back in and head for the next house.

An agent tailed him. After traveling a few blocks, the black Crown Victoria flashed a blue dash-mounted light and pulled over the FedEx truck. "Who answered the door?" the agent wanted to know. "A woman," the driver replied. The agent showed him a photograph of a man and asked if he was in the house too. Yeah, the driver confirmed that he had noticed the man in the background.

The man in the photograph, 57-year-old Richard Hirschfeld, had been careless. He knew people wanted him arrested; he knew that every ring of the doorbell could bring a small army of federal officers waiting to drag him from his luxurious Mediterranean manse.

Just five months before, Hirschfeld had paid $4.8 million for the 8,400-square-foot dwelling, where he and his wife were trying to live a low-profile life.

With a four-car garage, separate staff quarters with covered loggia leading back to the main house, a two-story living room, fountains, climatized wine cellar, and elevator to a third-floor deck providing panoramic views from the downtown to the oceans, it was a top-tier residence befitting a man of his stature. "It's not every day we wander into mansions and arrest people," Morrow says. "I mean, this guy was literally on top of the world for a long, long time."

But then, Richard Hirschfeld's life always had the lurid quality of a Danielle Steele miniseries. Hirschfeld had rubbed shoulders with foreign royalty, climbed the pinnacle of international celebrity, even sneaked into the inner sanctum of Congress. There were outrageous stories, fancy cars, prison cells, international espionage, and island hideaways. And, of course, the love of a good woman.

Hirschfeld's only crime, his friends and family insist, was pissing off the wrong people. Sure, he had a ruthless swagger. But in truth, say his defenders, he was a lion-hearted family man, never less than a loving father, doting grandfather, and ultradevoted husband. Rarely seen without a cigar in the corner of his mouth, Hirschfeld attracted powerful people with a magnetic personality that snared enemies as readily as friends. He made and lost fortunes, paid huge fines, served prison time, and became the subject of scores of magazine and newspaper features. And his connections in the government knew him as a renegade patriot, offering services -- sometimes shadily -- in service of his country.

None of that mattered to Morrow or Russell and their men as they surrounded the 17,000-square-foot lot. Once the delivery driver confirmed that Hirschfeld was in the house, there was no escape. The front was fenced and gated, but the rear flank was wide open. One of the world's wealthiest, jet-setting, hobnobbing, law-breaking, asylum-seeking fugitives could run no more.

Hirschfeld's life and career took on such fabulous trappings that they often challenge belief. While in law school, most of his classmates lived in modest student apartments, but he had the top-floor penthouse in one of the tallest buildings in Charlottesville, Virginia. Early on, Hirschfeld's high aspirations gave him an instinct for the quick killing. After graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1971, Hirschfeld decided to start a bank. The quick and inglorious demise of the Hirschfeld Bank of Commerce in Virginia Beach was the first in a bitter string of failures, and in 1977, he declared bankruptcy.

"A lot of influential people in Norfolk lost money in that bank and thought Richard had scammed them," says Ronald Tweel, a Charlottesville lawyer who is Muhammed Ali's personal attorney. Tweel first befriended Hirschfeld in the late 1960s. "So they were out to get him. They investigated him for five years before they could find bogus charges to bring against him." To Tweel, Hirschfeld was a dynamic, brilliant attorney and confidante. "His mind just went 120 mph at all times," he recalls.

Following that first setback, Hirschfeld headed west. He married Loretta Crafton, a Virginia divorcée he had met through a mutual friend. From Virginia Beach to Newport Beach, California, wasn't a stretch for Hirschfeld, and he ended up practicing law in the high-end coastal town.

He perfected his knack for hooking up with well-connected clients. He handled legal affairs for Don Nixon, brother of the disgraced president, and networked with powerful Republicans like Orrin Hatch and Arlen Specter. Hatch, who like Hirschfeld had boxed in school, reportedly remains a staunch supporter of the attorney, but he did not return phone calls seeking comment for this article.

Hirschfeld was introduced to celebrities like John Wayne and Muhammed Ali, who became his number-one client and unlikely best friend. Hirschfeld's prominent placement in headlines over the next two decades guaranteed him notoriety.

"When he was representing Ali and he had the sheiks and all these famous people, he enjoyed that lifestyle," Loretta says proudly.

In 1982, he represented a young Saudi millionaire interested in purchasing Woolco, a troubled spinoff of retail giant F.W. Woolworth. Mohammed al-Fassi, a colorful South Florida con man with mansions in Hollywood Beach and Miami Beach, wanted to buy the company, he said, to save 25,000 jobs. But late that year, Hirschfeld convinced al-Fassi that the chain was doomed, and Woolworth closed its 336 Woolco outlets in the U.S. Al-Fassi then turned his money hose in the direction of Midland, Ohio, a steel town fallen on hard times. Pledging $3 million to the town if its voters pledged to vote against Ronald Reagan in the 1984 election, the sheik's plans were thwarted when the heavily Democratic town bristled at charges of "vote-selling." Poor form, Hirschfeld opined. Hard-core GOP supporter Hirschfeld advised al-Fassi not to get involved in the American political process.

At the same time, court records show, al-Fassi was racking up monumental bills with Yellow Cab in Fort Lauderdale and the old Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood. He left South Florida in disgrace in the mid-'80s and died in 2003.

By 1984, Hirschfeld was back on the East Coast, a partner in a new Virginia Beach law firm. He and Ali formed Champion Sports Management, a promotion powerhouse in the boxing world. That June, he was sued by boxer Larry Holmes, who accused Hirschfeld of tricking him into signing an exclusive contract making the lawyer his promoter. Holmes, who said he had the reading skills of a third-grader, claimed he was unable to understand the agreement. Hirschfeld won the case -- and a reputation as a shrewd, if not shysterish, adversary.

In 1985, Hirschfeld and Ali traveled to Lebanon in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue a group of kidnapped Americans including the CIA's William Buckley (whose body was recovered in southern Beirut seven years later). That summer, when Hirschfeld's friend Richard Herzberg was held hostage in Beirut after a TWA jetliner was hijacked, Ali interceded again, making contact with a Shiite faction claiming responsibility. Herzberg lied about his Jewish ancestry to escape his captors' wrath, and negotiations chaired by Ali led to his release after 17 days in a Beirut prison.

After his retirement, Ali began spending more and more time in Virginia with Hirschfeld. "Ali and I were basically two of his better social friends here," Tweel says. Hirschfeld and Ali even bought a 50-acre horse farm south of Charlottesville.

"Richard and Ali were wonderful friends," Loretta says. "He was Ali's attorney, and he was very protective of him. He always tried to make sure he got plenty of rest and took his medication for his Parkinson's. He always mothered him."

The odd couple, Ali and Hirschfeld, together owned a hotel, auto dealership, and boxing camp. When the camp flopped and investors were angered, the Securities and Exchange Commission started looking into Hirschfeld's stock offerings.

Hirschfeld's dealings with Ali kept veering into the surreal. During the late '80s, when the two were still tight, the lawyer used his political pull to gain the ear of Mikhail Gorbachev. The three met in Moscow and discussed a business venture with the government involving a floating hotel that would be constructed in Singapore, towed around the world, and assembled in the center of the Soviet capital. Of course, the idea never came to fruition.

Already regarded as Ali's mouthpiece, Hirschfeld was accused of mimicking the champ's voice in a series of telephone calls to congressmen lobbying leniency for Hirschfeld in his burgeoning problems with federal law enforcement. Senator Hatch, an Ali confidante, disputed the allegation and defended Hirschfeld. And the lawyer -- though well-known for his killer Ali impersonation -- was infuriated, telling the Washington Post that the accusation "insults the intellect of Ali."

Yet two years later, the paper reported, federal investigators determined that Hirschfeld, not the former boxer, had made the calls, and Ali admitted as much.

Indeed, as Ali's health deteriorated, speculation grew that Hirschfeld was somehow taking advantage of him. In 1999, the two had a falling out over the rights to the champ's life story, with Ali suing his former pal, who was claiming he held creative control over Ali's history. Eventually, with Tweel mediating, the two reached a settlement. Hirschfeld and Ali managed to remain friends, but the champ was startled by his opponent's audacity. (Ali and his wife, Lonnie, declined to be interviewed for this article.) "No one, not even his family, would try to tell you Richard was the pope," Tweel adds. "He was a very aggressive lawyer and businessman who believed in pushing the line."

In 1985, Hirschfeld made international news in his biggest caper yet. Through al-Fassi, he'd made contact with deposed Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. That May, he and associate Robert Chastain visited Marcos' Honolulu mansion. Chastain was to play the role of arms dealer, with Hirschfeld negotiating the sale of some heavy artillery, which Marcos wanted to use (along with 10,000 volunteer troops) in a scheme to retake the Philippines from President Corazon Aquino. Seeking financing from al-Fassi, Marcos promised Hirschfeld he had 1,000 tons of gold stashed in the Philippines and up to a billion dollars hidden abroad in banks. Of course, Hirschfeld later admitted, he stood to gain an enormous profit if the deal went through.

But Hirschfeld, acting on his own, was setting Marcos up -- he'd secretly taped the discussions by placing a briefcase with a hidden voice-activated recorder on the table in front of him. He turned over the tape to the FBI and the Aquino government. After it was presented to the House Subcommittee on Asian Affairs, the Reagan administration prevented Marcos from making any aggressive moves against his ex-homeland. Marcos accused Hirschfeld of doctoring the recordings and inventing the entire story, citing the problems with the Securities and Exchange Commission as the lawyer's motive. By then, the SEC had banned Hirschfeld for life from practicing before it because of his bogus stock offerings.

It wouldn't be the last time Hirschfeld tried to convince the government to let a good deed atone for a bad one. In 1987, he hatched a plot to capture an Iranian criminal by offering him millions to murder the divorce lawyer representing al-Fassi's wife. The lawyer, Marvin Mitchelson, would be the cheese in the trap. Incredibly, Hirschfeld managed to get this idea through to the Justice Department, but the plan was never implemented, says a 1989 Washington Post story quoting "high justice department officials and other knowledgeable sources."

"In our business, we meet a lot of charlatans," says Dale Cooter, a long-time Hirschfeld friend and prominent Washington-area attorney. "And my bullshit antenna works. Richard would talk about Ali and Ferdinand Marcos, and I'd shake my head and say, 'What kind of crap is this?' But everything he said turned out to be true."

Frank Quayle, an old classmate from the University of Virginia, remembers being "mesmerized" when he'd hear tales about his old friend. "Fascinating stuff. I remember some comment about how, if you needed [to borrow] 5 or 10 million dollars, he wasn't the right guy. But if you needed 50 to 100 million, he was your man."

One of the first $500-an-hour attorneys to conduct most of his business via cell phone (usually while piloting his white Rolls-Royce), Hirschfeld's inscrutability led many to believe he worked as a spy, maybe a CIA agent. Hirschfeld would laugh off any such notion, saying, "Who ever heard of a Jewish James Bond?" Virginia newspapers starting talking about Hirschfeld's high-rolling ways in gossip pages, calling his parties "Gatsbyesque" and attributing his career rise to his "brilliant, creative, ruthless" demeanor.

But by 1990, the IRS, the FBI, and a federal grand jury in Norfolk were investigating every aspect of Hirschfeld's finances, including his tax returns. Since the early 1980s, the family traditionally spent Thanksgiving at a time-share on Marco Island on Florida's southwest coast, Loretta explained. When they returned to Virginia, Richard had been indicted on four counts of federal tax and conspiracy violations.

The original indictment alleged he had conspired to defraud the IRS and the SEC by filing a false 1984 income tax return. The charges centered on a $2.1 million lawsuit settlement that Hirschfeld used as a deduction. Hirschfeld claimed throughout that the charges were bogus. In a 1993 prison interview in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he claimed: ''I didn't willfully violate any statutes. I arranged my financial affairs in such a fashion as to negate my tax liabilities. It's permissible to avoid taxes as long as you don't evade taxes." He could have faced $700,000 in fines and 16 years behind bars.

In 1991, the same judge who had heard Hirschfeld's bank-demise case in 1976 fined him $460,000 and gave him six years in the federal prison at Petersburg, Virginia. His family and friends say the luxury-loving Hirschfeld hated it there and vowed to never see the inside of a cell again. After his release in 1995, it was revealed he'd obtained work furloughs -- and an early release -- by volunteering to build homes with Habitat for Humanity.

Following Hurricane Andrew's devastation in August of 1992, Hirschfeld's friend Joseph Seriani lobbied government officials on his behalf so Hirschfeld could travel to South Florida and help in reconstruction efforts in exchange for an early release. But Coral Springs-based Seriani turned out to be a convicted felon not authorized to use Habitat for Humanity stationery.

Additional charges were filed against Hirschfeld, and he was ordered to appear in front of the judge again on November 21, 1996. He'd been trying to clear his name, even seeking to have his conviction overturned -- saying that the charges were trumped-up and that the judge, a U.S. attorney general, and prosecutors had plotted his demise because of personal vendettas. In particular, Hirschfeld maintained that U.S. Attorney Henry Hudson turned against him after he reneged on a promise to support -- with help from Ali and Hatch -- Hudson's judgeship. In the press, Hudson has repeatedly denied those claims.

Hirschfeld didn't show up for the November 21 hearing. Two weeks later, he walked into the office of the Associated Press in Madrid with the announcement that he was seeking asylum from the Spanish Interior Ministry. He was frustrated, he said, at not being able to get a fair trial in Virginia. Seriani, charged in connection with the same scam, was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison. Hirschfeld was reportedly looking at as many as 35 years and more than a million dollars in fines. That, he made clear to his family, was never, ever going to happen. And he was right.

At 28 degrees latitude, Tenerife, the largest of the Spanish-owned Canary Islands, enjoys the same tropical climate year-round as South Florida. Twelve hundred miles southwest of Madrid and 100 miles off the coast of the Western Sahara, the resort town of Playa de Las Americas offered Hirschfeld beachfront living and the illusion of escaping his tormentors. He cut a dashing figure in his new island sanctuary. He parked his white Rolls on the street in front of his apartment after he had it shipped from Virginia to Cadiz, Spain, and then to Tenerife. Loretta told the media that he'd even bought property on the island, where she visited him in December 1996.

That trans-Atlantic holiday celebration was tempered by the news that Hirschfeld had again been indicted back in Virginia in connection with the early-release case. Federal authorities couldn't enter Spain and grab him legally and didn't even know how the fugitive, whose passport had been confiscated, managed to travel.

With a U.S. warrant in hand, Spanish National Police officers arrested Hirschfeld at his apartment on January 29, 1997. He sat in jail until May, when he was freed on bail. Conspiracy to write fraudulent letters to get out of prison didn't constitute extraditable offenses under Spanish law. But in June, he was again indicted in Virginia on charges that, while in prison in 1993, he and a pair of inmates conspired to threaten U.S. District Judge Calvitt Clarke Jr. -- the same judge who originally sentenced Hirschfeld to prison and to whom the fake Habitat for Humanity letters had been sent. Convinced he'd be railroaded by Clarke, the inmates told authorities, Hirschfeld allegedly asked them to scare the judge by threatening to break his legs or douse him with acid. That case would hound Hirschfeld until his capture.

In the meantime, Spanish authorities had renewed their interest in his extradition, and Hirschfeld fled the Canaries. As nice as they were, the islands were just too remote, too far from family.

In late 1998, Hirschfeld made his way to Havana. Loretta says the family was never comfortable visiting him on the island, so they would meet in the Bahamas. Hirschfeld also got frequent visits from Dale Cooter, an old friend from Virginia, now a prominent attorney in Washington, D.C.

Cooter says that, during a visit to Cuba in 2000, he spent three days holed up with Hirschfeld at his condo in the resort town of Varadero, trying to strategize. "He was looking to me to point him in the right direction," says Cooter, who was getting cabin fever after so much plotting.

As usual, Hirschfeld had found a way to stand out from the crowd. He had somehow gotten hold of two cars -- a red convertible Mustang and a blue Cadillac -- that were anything but common on the island. The Ford was such a lucky charm that a pair of cops who pulled them over for speeding let them go, even thanked them, just for a look at the engine.

Once, Cooter says, he borrowed the Mustang to go grab a beer and a bite to eat. "Christ, it was like being a movie star," he says. The car attracted a family celebrating their daughter's 16th birthday. When Cooter told them he'd take a photo of her sitting in the car, "you would have thought she'd just won a trip to Disney World."

Back to brass tacks with Hirschfeld, though: That was far less entertaining. Cooter leveled with his pro-bono client.

"Look," Cooter advised, "I understand these charges are bogus. There's a vendetta -- I agree with you. But you haven't been so damned smart here. Your judgment's been poor, and you can't fight the whole world all the time."

Hirschfeld looked at Cooter with tears in his eyes. "You really believe that?" he asked.

"I really do," Cooter replied. It was the only time he'd seen Hirschfeld so emotional, and Cooter tried to reassure him.

"Don't worry about it, Richard. It's just an observation. Calm down," Cooter said. "We'll play the ball where it is and figure out what to do and how to get out of it."

When Cooter visited him again a few months later, he was amazed at how well-connected his client had become with Cuban politicians -- up to and including Fidel Castro, whose policies Hirschfeld privately loathed.

"But I didn't go down there to talk politics with him," Cooter remarks. Instead, it was more of a cleanup visit, not terribly substantive, because of the brick walls Cooter faced in getting help for his client. He remembers they nearly crossed paths in London around the same time -- Hirschfeld could still move about the globe with ease. "I think the Cubans facilitated that somehow," Cooter says.

In Cuba, Hirschfeld gravitated toward posh seaside villas. Though closer to his family, he wasn't satisfied.

"Cuba," Cooter says with a small chuckle, "for a middle-aged white man, has its attractions. But whenever I talked to Richard, he was maudlin about his failure to have access to his wife and kids. He had this slavish devotion to his family. More than one would expect."

In the wake of 9/11, there was good reason to believe the government had more pressing concerns than a big-shot attorney with a checkered past, fugitive or not. Hirschfeld re-entered the country sometime in 2000 and was living in South Florida.

Loretta left Virginia to join him. "At first, I just thought I would go back and forth," she recalls. But in May of 2004, using the name Global Telesat -- a corporation headed by Loretta on paper but by Richard in reality -- the two purchased their dream home at 1310 Brickell Dr. They moved in the next month. In the back of her mind, she knew it was risky. "I'm so thankful for the short time we were together here, because we loved this house so much," she says. "I didn't think about someone knocking on the door."

On a bright April afternoon, Agent Russell, an imposing man with a tell-tale bulge of body armor under his blue T-shirt, returns to the parking lot. Absent-mindedly tapping the butt of his holstered pistol, he flexes muscles without being aware of it. With a Gordon Liddy gruffness and graying mustache, Russell's shorn scalp looks capable of farming two and a half heads' worth of hair. Without it, he's just that much more intimidating.

Returning to where the big nab went down clearly entertains him. Home only a few days after a three-month voluntary deployment to Baghdad ("a lot of fun!"), where he chased insurgents using black helicopters and Humvees, Russell is now driving his car across the grass of Colee Hammock Park, a prime picnic spot near the confluence of the New and Tarpon rivers.

"Chuck and I do mostly violent crimes," he says. "Homicides. With fraud guys, we usually give 'em an hour, and if we can't find 'em, we can't find 'em. But this was an international bad guy, on the run for years, and it always feels good to get a guy like that."

Pulling the front bumper an inch or two over the seawall, Russell edges the front tires against the stone barrier that separates the park from the water. A fishing boat bobs past as the lunch crowd stares.

On October 1, from this spot two houses east of the mansion, Russell hopped onto a police speedboat that set off for a cove of the Tarpon River a few hundred yards south. There, he and Morrow conferred via walkie-talkie. "We'll make entry in 30 seconds," Morrow said, his team ready to approach the Hirschfeld residence from the front.

"Twenty-nine, 28, 27, 26," counted Morrow as the boat cruised across the river. It pulled up to the dock just as a fleet of Crown Vics blockaded the driveway and street in front of the home.

It was just before 3:30 in the afternoon. Richard and Loretta Hirschfeld chatted inside a first-floor office as Richard sat at a computer and checked his e-mail. Leaning against a wall, Loretta heard an alarm go off. Figuring the wind had blown open a door on the back deck, she was prepared to ignore it when another door alarm sounded.

"Gee, that's weird," Loretta thought. She started to walk out of the office into the front foyer, where through the window she noticed four FBI cars in the driveway.

"I mean, they didn't say FBI on 'em," she recounts in her Virginia accent. "But one of the guys stood up out of the car, and he had FBI across his shirt."

Loretta started down the hall toward the rear of the house. Five large glass doors opened onto an expansive patio with a sleekly modern swimming pool and a drop-off to the dock and river beyond.

Just then, Paul Russell was entering the house. The alarms she'd heard had sounded when he pushed against one locked door and then strolled through the next, quite unlocked, one.

"She was a little in awe," Russell says, "seeing someone as ugly as me coming in her back door."

Russell, with bug-eyed safety goggles, full duty belt, and Kevlar vest with POLICE printed in yellow letters across it, was an unwelcome sight in the Hirschfeld's living room, a place so vast he'd later tell a reporter it was big enough for him and his men to play a game of touch football in.

"The ceilings go up to the roof," he says, pointing at the house. "It looks like the Sistine Chapel. I mean, look at this money!"

Loretta started to head back down the hallway. An agent stopped her and made her sit on the staircase leading to the second floor. "Watch her," Russell ordered.

"Is there anyone else in the house with you?" he demanded.

"My husband," Russell says she answered. "And she points right to where he was -- gave him right up."

Russell raced down the hall and found Hirschfeld inside a huge walk-in closet, where office files and supplies were kept. "I said his name," the FBI man remembers, "and I grabbed him. Scared the shit out of the little fucker."

The five-foot-seven, 160-pound Hirschfeld was dwarfed by the six-foot, 200-pound-plus agent. Russell wasn't impressed. Nor was he pleased. "I was scared," Russell admits, because as the lawyer put one hand through a pair of handcuffs, he quickly stuck the other in his pants pocket.

"Against my direct orders," Russell says. "Everybody in the world knows you don't put your hand in your pocket when you're being arrested. So I grabbed him by the neck and said, 'If you do that again, you're gonna get shot. '"

To his surprise, Hirschfeld did it again. When that happened, Russell recounts almost apologetically, "I handcuffed him in, uh, an aggressive manner."

"Very roughly," Loretta corroborates.

It was a Friday afternoon. Loretta's middle son was getting married the following weekend, an event the couple was eagerly anticipating. As Hirschfeld was marched out the front door, he turned around and said to his wife, "Don't let this affect the wedding."

What did he have in this pocket? A gun? A knife? A cell phone to flag down his helicopter?

All Hirschfeld carried were two friends who'd seen him through a near-decade of successful sub-rosa solitude: a wad of cash and an international calling card.

Hirschfeld held one last card in his depleted deck. After his arrest, Business Wire reported that in 2003, Hirschfeld's telecommunications company, Global Telesat, helped pioneer revolutionary new eavesdropping technology. The company, with Hirschfeld's concurrence, had supplied equipment to the Pentagon, which used it to find and capture Saddam Hussein. Hirschfeld appealed to President Bush for clemency, to no avail.

Cooter says he had no idea Hirschfeld was in Florida until his arrest. "Frankly, I think there's a reason for that. I would have been very critical with Richard about any decision to live in Lauderdale. I would have found that reckless. Jeez, he bought himself a $4 million mansion and lived in an ostentatious way -- I mean, you can't thumb your nose at these people."

Fort Lauderdale attorney Alvin Entin did what he could. "I had many different, inventive strategies that I think could have worked," he says.

"Yeah," Loretta deadpans, "we've been hearing that for years."

As a fugitive, Hirschfeld was denied bail. His options slowly dwindled. Regardless, Entin says he never spotted depression in his client. "But I'm a criminal defense lawyer, not a shrink," he says. "He was always hyper and upbeat around me."

Backed into a legal corner, all the attorneys he could muster writing furious petitions, Hirschfeld was unable to persuade the government to keep him in Miami. In early January 2005, a federal judge ordered him transferred to Virginia to stand trial. "There's no question about it," Loretta says quietly. "We knew all along that it was a personal vendetta. Don't piss off anybody in the government. That's exactly the way they operate -- because they can."

In a letter from jail sent to Norfolk, Virginia, reporter Bill Burke, he pleaded: "Pray for my wife -- the noblest person I've ever known -- and my family. Today it actually hit me I will never receive justice."

On the morning of January 11, prison phone transcripts showed, Hirschfeld called Loretta to pledge his undying love and to ask forgiveness, begging her not to hate him.

"How could I hate you?" Loretta asked.

"For giving up," he said.

Shortly before 10 a.m. that day, Hirschfeld's body was discovered in a laundry room. He had fashioned a noose from some rope and tied it to a pipe. A sheet of cellophane that had covered his last meal was pressed against his face. He had knelt and bent forward -- a tough way to die, requiring lethal determination.

"I was shocked," Tweel says, "but his letters to me made it be known he was not going back to prison. I think he would not have done this if they'd let him stay in Florida, where he would have been treated impartially. But still, he called the final shot."

In Iraq, Russell got a phone call from his supervisor in Miami. "You know all that work you did?" his boss asked. "The guy's dead." Says Russell: "I figured he got killed by another inmate."

Detective Morrow offers more compassion. "I really sympathize with the family," he says. "It's a very sad story with a very sad ending."

The people Hirschfeld left behind, especially his wife, contend that the vendetta begun in Virginia in the 1970s dogged him to his grave. Loretta says her husband courageously risked everything, ultimately his life, to be with his family. Even when the game was up, he didn't surrender -- he escaped.

"That's just the way Richard was," Loretta says, trying to staunch tears. "He'd give you the shirt off his back, which had a lot to do with his downfall, because he was so good to people. And it was incredible how people took advantage of him. There's something wrong with that picture."

To Loretta, Richard wasn't quite the larger-than-life character he appeared. "He was about as unflamboyant as you can get," she insists. "He was just a really down-to-earth guy with a heart of gold. His life was such a love story -- he loved his parents, he loved my parents, his kids and grandkids, and he always told me that I would never find someone who would love me as much as he did. And I'm sure that's true. I mean, he just adored me -- and I don't mean to sound obnoxious, but he loved me to death. For 30 years."

Loretta Hirschfeld recently sold the house on Brickell, and she's considering returning to Virginia. "One of the things that makes me very, very sad is that Richard didn't stick around to write his own story," she says. "Because nobody writes like Richard Hirschfeld."

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton

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